Hackin’ The Net

rainbow-pcSince we did gifts last issue we have several topics which we want to catch up this time, so fasten the seatbelts and enjoy the ride…


—First off, another of our almost constant whining to all readers to keep those devices up-to-date and watch for changes as you do so. What we are talking about here is the often- obnoxious pop-ups you get reminding you that there’s a new operating system (OS) for your phone or tablet or computer. Unless those pop-ups are spam or ads, look at what they say and update. If in doubt check with a computer gum you know, the Apple Genius Bar, the Geek Squad or elsewhere, but update!

We have a very good friend who was both griping and bragging at a party to us recently.

He was bragging that he’d “not had a single problem since I stayed with my old OS on my phone” yet after the very next drink, he was griping that “my applications do not seem to work anymore.” The single best reply we could offer was “Duh!” but in all honesty the problem was not his fancy phone or his iPad, but him. He was, simply put, scared and refused to update, so those old apps (which are no longer supported by the OS or their designers) were slowly, but surely, in their death throes.

The solution: we had him bring his laptop, phone and tablet and come over for tea the next week and we held his hand through his back-up and updates and made sure that everything would work right. He was amazed at how that happened in just a couple hours and is now sold on the idea of actually doing those updates as they come along — not a year late. And you, dear reader, should be sold as well.

There are all sorts of reasons for those updates, by the way, though it seems of late, with stories abounding about this or that credit card being compromised, that 85% of them are something having to do with your (and my) security. Just because I write a column does not make me immune so I seem to wake up to e-mails or calls from a credit card company more often than I’d like warning about this or that “possible fraudulent activity” . These can be excessive (and I did tell one credit card firm to quit crying “Wolf!” after four calls on the same legit charge recently) but having the latest software on your computer or phone can minimize these issues. The updates also let developers of apps add things you and I might want. One popular radio station app added hundreds of stations recently on an update and one I use to read my UK and other newspapers (wwwf.pressreader.com) changed the look of their iPad news stand and made it infinitely easier to find the titles I like to view.

Finally, before moving on to the next topic, yes there ARE some less-pleasant updates. Partner Ivan has a game that won’t work right anymore for some reason, an Australian app I loved figured a way to see that I was not really at a friend’s address I had “borrowed” in Adelaide and blocked me from watching video content I like from down under and the American Eagle iPhone app’s latest update added Aerie, their women’s store, meaning I now have to wade through female offerings to find my jeans. I have no ladies in my life to buy for and do not do drag, meaning the old app was easier for me to use, but such is the old saw about the good with the bad. Take my word for it, though: when it comes to updates, the good is far, far out front so grit your teeth, be sure to plug in that device so it won’t run out of juice during an update and click “yes” when OS eight-point-whatever or that app asks you to download it!

—Next, on a related issue, things sometimes change on sites you and I visit. Do take a second to read what’s going on before you click yes or the “usual” box or you may not be a happy computer user. For example, the old easy way to grab an appointment at Apple’s Genius Bar from www.apple.com has changed. Now you can either go through a few screens where they offer some at-home help (we are told almost 75% of the folks who take their computers in could have saved the trip with some user-friendly tips now offered first on the website and also via a live online chat link) or you can select the Make A Genius Bar Appointment tab. You can bypass some of the tips if you are so inclined by just going to the search (magnifying glass icon at upper right) and typing in “Genius Bar Appointment” but there are still some panes to navigate. This was obviously done to save the company some bucks, but mostly to save you and I from the bother of dragging our computer or iPad to the store unless we really, really HAVE TO. It’s a win-win.

Our bank also recently made some major changes to their website and that reminded us once more to click where you want to go — not where you used to go — unless you are set for a surprise. This is also the appropriate place to say shame, shame on some website developers and designers for not making their sites able to work in all (or at least most) browsers. The biggest one which comes immediately to mind is Greyhound, the bus folks, who have not only (in our opinion) missed the bus and have one of the least user-friendly websites we have ever had the displeasure to navigate because it’s one which won’t work much at all on Apple’s popular Safari browser. Try typing in a departure and destination and trying to get a schedule and NOTHING happens in Safari. Try clicking their calendar to pick a date for travel and NOTHING happens. We had to switch to Google Chrome to book a bus ticket recently for a friend who has no credit card and then we had to pay TWO fees: a $2.50 “booking fee” and an $18 “gift ticket fee” because he, not we, was doing the travelling! It appeal’s the bus companies are doing the same nickel and diming as most airlines do these days, but at least we have found no problem logging on to the airline sites and having them function in Safari! Oh, and did we mention printing his ticket at home was also a pain and the site clearly states “Tickets displayed on smartphones cannot be accepted”. C’mon guys, this is 2015 so make it happen or go to the back of the bus.

—Finally this month, now that your holiday gadgets have all been opened and tried remember that many companies have 30 or 60 day return/exchange privileges. This means you need to make sure they work, do what you really wanted and are the right “fit” for you (Mac vs pc, iPhone vs Droid, etc.). If not, now is the time to head out with the gift receipt and do that switch or get that credit, before it’s too late. Also, be sure you plug in and try all aspects of that electronic gift you might have been given before the cut-off date. That means to fire up that computer, load and use that software for a “test run”, play the video game on that Xbox, make a test print on that printer and so on. If it doesn’t work, won’t work right or just is not what you hoped Aunt Brooxie was going to get you, now (not in March or April) is the time to see the store.

And a word about that, too. A good friend is engaged in a hassle with a well-known game seller and reseller over a game which doesn’t work. The local store staff don’t seem too interested in helping so he turned to me for advice. Mine was simple: Call the company’s HQ and politely and calmly talk to them about the issue. It’s really no surprise to me that he’s had good luck with that because I find most companies — electronic and all others — will bend over backwards to help with a legit issue. Note we said legit, so if you broke the iPad case or your puppy peed on the laptop keyboard those are not corporate fixes but are your fault (You did buy Apple Care or insurance, right?) However, if you have a real, honest issue and can’t get a resolve at local store level, get the receipt and call corporate — large or small, electronic or not. We even had a woven $5 bracelet we bought in Maine last Summer fall apart after a week or two and the kind folks at Downeast Concepts whose label indicated that they sold it to the shop in Portland where we bought it not only gratefully heard us out when we called, but they replaced it with not one, but two at no charge.

Don’t expect two computers or two iPads (they ain’t $5 you know) but you can expect Apple, Best Buy, Fry’s or any other responsible corporate HQ to help you out if you promptly call a problem to their attention and if the local store can’t, don’t or won’t help. Oh, and now is a good time to use that gift card you might have received. January and February are prime months for retailers to have sales and for those who didn’t make it financially during the holidays to call it quits, close their doors and go belly up. The very day they announce the party’s over in most (note: most not all) cases, that gift card will be worthless. It can be “use it or lose it” so don’t hide it in a drawer looking for a better buy in July or you might find it only fit for the trash!


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